In the frame for success in fine art photography
A career behind the camera lens used to be just a pipe dream for former plumber Tony Moore, until he hit upon his now trademark technique and struck commercial gold
With the snow blanketing Co. Tyrone, Omagh photographer Tony Moore was eying up potential subjects. 'Well, everybody and their dog was out taking photos but what I would do as it’s a full moon tonight, and we had terrific light last night, would be to go somewhere with a field and an old house. You could get a shot with the light hitting off the snow.' He was also celebrating having won one of photography’s ‘Oscars’. He gained the Advertising and Commercial Photographer of the Year title for the second year running in January, awarded by the Societies of Photographers, the biggest photographic outfit in Europe. Moore notes that he has also 'picked up 30 golds with them and 15 ‘commendeds’.
This is a massive achievement, given the fact that Tony Moore is on his second career and has only been in the business a few years.
Moore (50) produces work of such lyricism, it is hard not to think of his photographs as paintings. He admits that his individual technique is painterly. 'I do ‘paint’ when I take photographs,' he says, 'I work on them. It’s advanced image construction. In a world full of imagery, with everybody looking at their phones or online, you need something that can stand out, that has a going market, instead of mainstream photography.'
Tony Moore isn’t wrong. The images for which he won the industry gongs are an example of his style. From his commercial output, there is a gorgeous picture of a pizza restaurant, the 9th Avenue Pizzeria in Omagh, snapped at night with a couple of figures outside looking for all the world like an Edward Hopper canvas. It is no surprise that Moore cites Hopper as an influence. 'I love his work and hope I’m conveying Hopper in the digital age. In this photograph you can see a narrative. They look so busy, the man is holding the pizza out, the other man has his head on the counter.'
But as Moore notes, you only get the full impact of his landscapes or business pictures or pictures of people’s homes – another commercially viable line - when they’re displayed. 'When you see the five feet photo on the wall, you get the full effect.'
Although Moore initially pursued a career in plumbing, ending up with a successful business, he was always interested in art. He may have only decided to focus on photography five years ago, putting himself through a training regime, but the talent was there from the beginning.
At school, Tony’s favourite subject was always drawing and art. 'When I was in primary school I loved drawing,' he remembers. 'Then when I went to St Patrick’s Secondary School, Omagh, I was top of the class in art.' Life took over and he started work but there was an epiphany waiting for him. 'But driving home from Belfast one evening, I saw this lovely sunset as I was returning to my house. It made me think of Donegal sunsets too.' That interest in light remains a constant in Moore’s work. You see it in landscapes such as Autumn Sunset where the warm glow which forms a kind of aureole round the trees on top of a small green hill is the result of technical ability of a high order.
According to Moore, reacting to the sunset on the road to Omagh was what galvanized him to change career. 'I thought I would love to learn how to capture it. I didn’t have the training.' But he acquired it, studying photographic technique online. 'I took paid courses online via Skype and YouTube and did basic courses at college.' He is, as he proudly says, self-taught and five years ago, he founded Tony Moore Fine Art Photography.
It was quite a transition, moving from the business world to the rarefied world of fine art and you have to wonder how he handles the arty fartiness. Does he find that world irritating? 'A wee bit,' he admits, 'a lot of people have a lot of opinions. You have to listen to your heart and the picture speaks for itself. I called my business Fine Art Photography because just photography seemed too easy. If people think my work doesn’t fall under that title, the Photographic Association of Northern Ireland and the Societies of Photographers do.'
It is a technical and a creative business. As Moore notes, the camera can’t capture what we see with the eye. But in the right hands, it is very good at faking it. He explains: 'There are 22 stops from total darkness to total light yet the camera can only see 14. It can’t recreate the full range of what we see.' Moore’s own approach is nothing short of artistic, as he reveals: 'I take a lot of shots from total dark to light then blend them. I have to take multiple exposures or increments from every light level. Then I use three to four different sessions to be able to get the nitty gritty.' Moore adds: 'I have my own distinctive style which I think of as textured light.'
Two of Tony’s commercial images, the bedrock of his work as a professional photographer, make the point. The Hairdressing Salon and the Music Studio both illustrate the effect of this technical tour de force. 'It involves a long shutter spread with the camera taking the photo at slow speed. You could call it light sculpting.' There is definitely a kind of chiaroscuro in Moore’s work. If you look at his landscapes and the house portraits, including Cottage, a study of Irish rural architectural design, you can see the play of light and dark. Moore describes this as 'luminosity work' and in the photograph of the modest white house, it emphasizes the architectural features.
Unsurprisingly, one of Moore’s artist heroes is the German born American Albert Bierstadt, who pinpointed the grandeur of the American West in landscapes whose composition is reflected in the photographer’s own views of Northern Ireland. Moore also appreciates the work of Joseph Wright of Derby, an 18th century painter whose candlelit views show a romantic view of England in the way Moore’s backlit photographs flatter Northern Ireland.
In terms of getting into the photographic business, Moore has a tried and tested approach. 'I put my work on Facebook and created a website,' he says. That created interested and in terms of his commercial portfolio, it was the stunning views of business premises. He can bring out the nobility of a gas station, and has.
He adds that you should then approach businesses who could use the image for both marketing purposes and as a piece of fine wall art that they could take pride in, citing his photographing of the Coach Inn, Omagh, when he 'picked the right moment at night with blue around' and subsequently blew the owners away with the result. Despite this being his first success however, Moore admits 'it's a slow builder. I started five years ago and it’s taken to now to be full time. But I do good commercial work.'
The future looks bright, probably light textured. Moore aims to experiment with monochrome, which he loves. And he has big plans. Moore, who also teaches at Big Rock Designs, Belfast and at the Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, is continuing to market his work in the bigger arenas: Belfast, Dublin and London. 'My marketing strategy is to go towards London and of course, I received my awards in the Hilton, London. Mine isn’t an architectural style, not arty farty, so I think my different photographs will work.' Look for Tony Moore’s name on a photo of something in the city in the near future.
This article has been published as part of Creativity Month, a celebration of creativity and the Creative Industries in Northern Ireland which runs throughout March. This year's theme is careers and skills – click here to read other articles on how to get into various Creative Industries professions. See the programme of events featuring over 150 inspiring workshops, performances, talks and much more at www.creativityni.org/events.